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Signature Paraguay: The Missions and the Chaco

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Ask most people where Paraguay is, and not that many will be able to point to this shyly land-locked country on a map. And most of them won’t know anyone who has been there. But that isn’t a reason not to go: what was in living memory merely a despotically-run, underdeveloped republic is now an optimistic place with a creative, youthful population and a commitment to restoring the attractions of the Spanish colonial era in its quirky riverside capital, Asuncion.

In addition, in the bird-filled wetlands, saltpans, lagoons and thorn forests of the Chaco Paraguay hosts some of the most remote wildlife wilderness on the continent and a stunning clutch of well tended ruins of once glorious Jesuit missions, which are also found over the border in Brazil and Argentina. For history, culture, the arts and nature, this comprehensive holiday will satisfy all the curiosity of the visitor who wants to go beyond the most popular destinations.

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

City tour of Asunción.

Day 2

Visit Sapucai railway museum.

Day 3

Drive through the Chaco wilderness of pastures, wetlands and thorn forests.

Day 4

Safari tour of the salt lakes and cactus forests of the Chaco.

Day 5

Visit Filadelfia's Mennonite museum. Return to Asuncion.

Day 6

Visit historic towns on the Ruta Jesuita.

Day 7

Visit the Jesuit Missions ruins of Trinidad and Jesus.

Day 8

Explore the San Ignacio Mini Mission in Argentina. Continue to Iguazu.

Day 9

Stay at a rainforest ecolodge close to Iguazu.

Day 10

Explore the bird-filled tropical rainforest on a private reserve.

Day 11

Explore the Iguazú Falls at leisure.

Day 12

Further discovery of the Falls. Transfer to airport for connections to international flight.

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What our experts say

A country of remarkable contrasts, this holiday to Paraguay is perfectly suited to history, wildlife and culture buffs alike. This, often overlooked, country is small, landlocked but full of charm and juxtaposed landscapes. What I love about this trip is the opportunity to learn about the history of this charming country, not just on the guided excursions we’ve planned in, but just by simply walking around the city of Asuncion, absorbing the history the Jesuit mission ruins or strolling the railway village. This is also a great holiday for birders, a visit to Campo Maria will not disappoint.

David

David Nichols

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Places visited on this holiday

Signature Paraguay: The Missions and the Chaco

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Asuncion and the heartland
Asuncion

Within living memory, Asuncion was best known for only having one traffic light. Of all the capital cities in Latin America, this was perhaps the most side-lined, in spite of having a colourful and eventful history. The city attracted few visitors beyond backpackers making their way to Brazil or Bolivia, but now it has earned the right to be considered a worthy destination in its own right.

Parts of the city are still stuck in a time-warp of poverty, and lack public services. But the once crumbly centre (part of its charm in its day) has been spruced up, with new parks, pergolas and period street lamps illuminating its evocative corners. The always attractive riverside walk has been pedestrianised.  Graceful old colonial buildings are still a draw, but political turbulence has spawned a burst of creative activity, especially among the young population, and murals, new bars, hotels and restaurants reflect a renewed optimism and enthusiasm.

Beyond the capital but still within easy reach is sleepy Sapucai, a seemingly forgotten village which was once the centre of Paraguay’s rail industry.  The railways were built with the help of British engineers and the enormous train sheds - now a museum - house wagons and old machinery bearing British insignia whilst steam engines lie in their final resting places, some abandoned outside in overgrown fields.

Within 1-2 hours’ drive of Asuncion is a necklace of typically Paraguayan small towns, known as the Golden Circuit. Some have their own tradition of arts and crafts such as intricate filigree jewellery and lacework. Others are interesting for their place in Paraguayan religious or political history: sleepy rural Pirebebuy was briefly the capital of Paraguay. There are small lakeside resorts one of which, Aregua, is popular among artists and weekenders with its cobbled parade of faded mansions and pretty plaza. 

When to go

The climate of this low-lying country is sub-tropical. Summer is extremely hot and humid, with average temperatures in Feb reaching 35°C. In winter temperatures are variable and it can be very cold at night. Most precipitation falls Oct- Apr but it can rain at any time of the year.

Language

Spanish, Guaraní.

Currency

Guaraní. Notes can be withdrawn from the many ATMs in Asunción using a UK credit or debit card. Limits may be lower than your UK bank allows. There are also many exchange houses in the capital and on the border where you can exchange US dollars and South American currencies cash (take your passport).

Time difference

GMT -4 hours.

Combines with

Argentina, accessing Puerto Iguazú (close to the Falls) by road via the frontier at Ciudad del Este; Iguazú Falls, Brazil, crossing over the frontier via the Friendship Bridge from Ciudad del Este. It's a 3-5 hour drive to Asunción.

Getting there

Flight time to Asunción is 17-24 hrs. There are no direct flights from the UK. Some routes involve a change of ‘plane in Brazil, Europe or the USA.

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Chaco

The Paraguayan Chaco is likened to the Brazilian Pantanal because it is rich in wildlife and a great destination for birdwatchers. The regions have a lot of species in common. However these are different ecosystems: much of the Chaco is semi-arid: although it does rain it does not flood seasonally like the Pantanal.

The Chaco really is an adventure destination, rewarding for those who are seeking out wilderness places in an increasingly developed and accessible world.  It’s for those who would actually be enticed by the regions’ nickname, the ‘Green Inferno’ – the land is flat, thorny and sweltering, though it does support vast cattle ranches in the zone of humid savannahs.

For centuries, no one lived there except a few hardy indigenous tribes and neither Paraguay nor its neighbour Bolivia cared in whose territory it fell: this changed when the possibility of (as yet unmined) oil reared its head and a bitter war took place in 1932-5. The population is tiny, swelled only by the existence of Mennonite colonies.  Members of this European Christian pacifist sect prefer to life apart from other cultures and their towns, such as remote Filadelfia, have striking blond inhabitants who still speak a kind of High German. A visit to their settlements is most intriguing.

Travel to the Chaco to observe cacti the size of houses in what is really a beautiful if melancholy landscape, seeking out wildlife such as caiman, lowland tapir, giant anteater, armadillo and Chacoan peccary. It's an exciting destination for birders: Birds include eagles, rheas, tinamous, black-bodied woodpeckers and woodcreepers. The saltpans and swamps attract a large number of waterfowl.

Unlike the Pantanal, the Chaco is totally undeveloped for tourism: there are no upscale lodges, you stay in Filadelfia or Loma Plata and drive to the best spotting locations. 

When to go

The climate of this low-lying country is sub-tropical. Summer is extremely hot and humid, with average temperatures in Feb reaching 35°C. In winter temperatures are variable and it can be very cold at night. Most precipitation falls Oct- Apr but it can rain at any time of the year.

Language

Spanish, Guaraní.The Mennonite communities speak a version of High German. 

Currency

Guaraní. Notes can be withdrawn from the many ATMs in Asunción using a UK credit or debit card. Limits may be lower than your UK bank allows. There are also many exchange houses in the capital and on the border where you can exchange US dollars and South American currencies cash (take your passport). When travelling to the Chaco, acquire your guaranis in Asuncion before you go. 

Time difference

GMT -4 hours.

Combines with

Combine a visit to the Chaco with a stay in Asuncion and a tour of the southern Jesuit Missions.

Getting there

Driving time from Asunción is around 8 hours along the two-lane highway called the Ruta Transchaco..

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The Jesuit Missions of the south
Jesuit Route -  Santa Maria de Fe

Two of the most southerly of Paraguay’s departments, Misiones and Itapuá, are distinguished not so much by their geography or land use, but by their unique cultural history.  This is the peaceful, rolling land of the Jesuit Missions, the history of which has until now exerted a huge influence on the region.

When Jesuit Missionaries arrived here during the early 1600s they established settlements known as Reductions, which  flourished for over 150 years. Here, the indigenous Guaraní people were housed, educated and given spiritual guidance by the priests. They were introduced to co-operative farming, music, architecture and art, the vestiges of which are on display long after the decline of the Missions in the 18th century left most of original 30 towns in Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil in ruins. These sites are now protected by UNESCO listing and form part of the Ruta Jesuita, a convenient way to visit the ruins and museums while passing through a totally rural landscape cornfields on decent roads. 

When to go

The climate of this low-lying country is sub-tropical. Summer is extremely hot and humid, with average temperatures in Feb reaching 35°C. In winter temperatures are variable and it can be very cold at night. Most precipitation falls Oct- Apr but it can rain at any time of the year.

Language

Spanish, Guaraní.

Currency

Guaraní. Notes can be withdrawn from the many ATMs in Asunción using a UK credit or debit card. Limits may be lower than your UK bank allows. There are also many exchange houses in the capital and on the border where you can exchange US dollars and South American currencies cash (take your passport). When planning to visit the Missions region from Asuncion, acquire your local currency in the capital. If entering from Brazil or Argentina, change money on the border. 

Time difference

GMT -4 hours.

Combines with

Argentina, entering the country via the border crossing at Encarnación, a 40min drive from Trinidad. You can take a new train service from Encarnación to Posadas. From Encancacíon you can proceed north to Ciudad del Este (3.5-4hrs) and cross into Brazil or Argentina there to visit the nearby  Iguazú Falls.. 

Getting there

Flight time to Asunción is 17-24 hrs. There are no direct flights from the UK. Some routes involve a change of ‘plane in Brazil, Europe or the USA.

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Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires
Along with Rio, this is a city worth crossing the Atlantic for in its own right. Dynamic, stylish and nostalgic, it’s the continent’s most European city, but does not lack South American verve. Its contrasting neighbourhoods reveal colonial plazas, shady avenues, quirky antique fairs, street art, world famous theatres and football stadiums and spruced-up metropolitan port districts. Studded with extensive parks, cutting-edge boutique hotels, designer boutiques and a myriad of restaurants, bars and nightclubs, it’s a restless place, challenging to find your way around but well worth the effort. It’s the beating heart of Argentina, the hub for visits throughout the country.
When's the best time to visit Buenos Aires?

Buenos Aires is at its hottest Jan-Mar (very humid with tropical showers, occasionally over 40C during the day). It can be cold and cloudy Jul-Aug, so weather conditions are best for a visit in spring and autumn. Dec-Feb and Jul are local holiday times: Porteños head for the beach.

What's the official language in Buenos Aires?

Spanish.

How do I get local currency in Buenos Aires?

Argentine Peso.

Notes can be withdrawn from the many ATMs using a UK credit or debit card. Limits may be lower than your UK bank allows. Please note that in 2016 many of the ATMs were not functioning properly; we are recommending that for the moment you take a good supply of US dollars cash. There are many banks and money exchanges (casas de cambio) where you can exchange US dollars cash; rates for euros and sterling frequently poor. 

What's the time difference between Buenos Aires and the UK?

GMT -3 hours. Sometimes daylight saving is observed in the summer, but this is announced ad hoc on a year-on-year basis.

What places combine well with Buenos Aires?

Beach time in Mar del Plata (392 km by road, 5hrs); Colonia or Montevideo in Uruguay across the River Plate: travel by ferry, bus or plane; a stay on a working estancia in the pampa south and west of the city; Iguazú Falls (2hrs approx by air).

How long is the flight to Buenos Aires from the UK?

Average flight time is 14hrs 20mins on a direct flight from London. There are also flights requiring a change of plane in Europe or the USA.

What are the festivals and cultural and sports events in Buenos Aires?

Tango Festival: Aug. The world's – top tango festival, nine days  of concerts, shows, free classes, exhibitions, open-air milongas (Avenida Corrientes is closed for a massive display) and other tango-related festivities.

Opera season: Mar-Dec. Take in a concert or opera at the refurbished Teatro Colón which attracts internationally esteemed artists. 

Argentine Polo Open: Mid Nov-mid Dec. Polo is a passion for many Argentines. This is the year’s main attraction, taking place in Palermo’s 16,000 seater stadium.

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Iguazu Falls
Iguazu falls

Straddling the border between southern Brazil and northeast Argentina, The Iguazú Falls (spelt  Iguaçú in Brazil) are usually rated number one of the big three waterfalls, the others being Niagara and Victoria. They are often considered to be Latin America’s most awe-inspiring natural sight and a must-see for anyone visiting the highlights of the continent.

The 275 separate cascades form a curtain of foaming water which crashes through tangled sub-tropical jungle over a vast granite amphitheatre, protected by national park status. Both countries offer scenic walkways with breath-taking scenery around every corner and easily observed wildlife. From the Brazilian side you’ll get a panoramic view of the 3km cliff edge, on the Argentine side there is a series of walkways leading you above, below and even behind the water.

When's the best time to go to Iguazu Falls?

Iguazú Falls is a year-round destination, but water levels and weather conditions vary with the rainy (Dec-Feb) and dry (Jun-Jul) seasons. The water supply to the falls also varies according to the local control of the dams upstream. It can be busy with tourists in local holiday seasons, for example in Feb and at Easter.

What's the official language in Iguazu Falls?

Brazilian Portuguese; Argentinean Spanish.

How do i get to Iguazu Falls?

There are direct flights connecting Iguazú Falls to Buenos Aires (2 hours), Rio de Janeiro (2 hours), Lima, São Paulo, and Salta in northern Argentina.

What's the official currency at Iguazu Falls?

Brazilian Real.

Brazil: notes can be withdrawn from ATMs in Foz do Iguazú Banco do Brasil, Bradesco and HSBC accept UK credit or debit cards. Limits may be lower than your UK bank allows. ATMs close at 10pm.

Argentina: there are a couple of ATMs in Puerto Iguazú where the banks are only open in the mornings.

What's the time difference between GMT and Iguazu falls?

GMT -3 hours. There is daylight saving from October to the end of February (approx) when clocks are put forward one hour.

What countries combine well with Iguazu Falls?

Argentina: Buenos Aires - there are direct daily 2 hour flights from Puerto Iguazú; Salta in the northwest Andes: daily flights take 1 hour 50mins.
Brazil: Rio de Janeiro - There are daily flights from Foz do Iguaçú; Southern Brazil: there are flights from Foz do Iguaçu to Curitiba with connections; The Pantanal or the Amazon: there are daily flights to Campo Grande or Manaus with connections in São Paulo.
Peru: there are daily flights from Foz do Iguaçú to Lima, 4.5 hours.

Speak to an expert Travel Consultant or send us your enquiry today.

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